Describe NoVA style.” It is the first question that we ask all of our potential style interns and undoubtedly the question that always leaves them stumped. It’s not necessarily because Northern Virginia is a style-less void but more because there is a perpetuating stereotype that the area is stuck in the times of skirt suits with clunky sneakers and cardigan sets. While it will take time to shake this stigma, there has been a noticeable shift in the fashion landscape within the past couple of years.
There’s no doubt that retailers understand the buying power here, which has caused a rapid growth of trendy and luxury megabrands in places like Tysons, Springfield Town Center and, most recently, the Mosaic District. The latter is especially important because it houses a standalone pop-up shop featuring two NoVA designers. “Without a doubt, two emerging designers that are bringing attention to Northern Virginia are Sophie Blake and Erika Schrieber with their gorgeous pop-up shop in the Mosaic District,” says Rosana Vollmerhausen, founder of DC Style Factory.
The concept was completely fresh: Two local designers, one focusing on jewelry and the other on apparel, joined forces to create a place where customers could shop their pieces outside of the Internet, store features and trade shows. “I noticed how there were very few, if not one or two, local boutiques that curated luxury brands that are unique and different,” Blake says. “Talking to friends and customers, I kept hearing the same message: People in Virginia were looking for a more unique shopping experience.” Recently, the pop-up shop has added a variety of independent beauty and home brands like Nomaterra, Finding Ferdinand and Ovando, proving that small, independent brands and local designers can pull in a high volume of customers on their own.
As with the realm of fashion as a whole, NoVA style has certainly received a boost from social media and bloggers, particularly when it comes to bringing awareness to local boutiques. Regularly, bloggers with thousands of followers like The Fashionably Broke, Style MBA, Spicy Candy DC and It’s Julien promote events and pieces from local stores like Take 5 Boutique, Zophia and She’s Unique. Even more hyperlocal, The Alexandria Stylebook website was created specifically to highlight the businesses and boutiques in the city like The Shoe Hive, Kiskadee, Bellacara and Coco Blanca in an organic way. The website even produced a print book this year with everything from home tips and makeup tutorials to outfit guides from local businesses.
Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have allowed smaller stores to become shopping destinations for local and visiting customers without having websites with products available for purchase. One of the most successful examples of using social media as a marketing tool is jewelry boutique She’s Unique in Old Town Alexandria. By carrying little-known designers found at trade shows as well as local designers like Ruth Barzel, owner Katya Ananieva uses the store’s social media platforms to show customers how to wear the pieces and the story behind them. “I feel that NoVA fashionistas are a lot more open-minded to the latest trends due to the widespread use of social media [as well as] influencers like bloggers and other fashion icons. They are now more educated shoppers and know what they want,” she states. “I have also noticed more support for our local boutiques and businesses in recent years. Shoppers want to connect with the store owners and the designers we carry—they know that by shopping local, they’re participating in our local economic growth.”
Looking forward, the local fashion scene seems to be moving toward a focus on ethical goods, bespoke fashion, independent designers and men’s style. There is a high expectation of quality and custom fit, and most importantly, customers want to know where their pieces are coming from. Will the region ever become a fashion capital? The jury is still out on that. But as long as we keep our local creatives in business with our patronage and support, we can at least be a part of the style conversation.
( January 2016 )